Bishop rules portion of land near where WWII children were buried can be de-consecrated

The Bishop of Blackburn has ruled that a small portion of land can be de-consecrated at a Ribble Valley cemetery, where children were laid to rest during the Second World War and which also has burial areas for patients and staff at a former hospital and asylum.

The Calderstones site includes the graves of the ‘Booth Hall Babies’ – unwell children who were evacuated to Calderstones Hospital from Booth Hall Hospital in Blackley, Manchester, when the Second World War began. Nearby is a well-maintained military ceremony.

A small section of land on one side of Calderstones Cemetery near Whalley can be de-consecrated to ensure its future use, subject to strict conditions, the Bishop has decided. But most of the land will remain consecrated. The announcement follows a period of consultation where the bishop, the Rt Rev Philip North, sought views from the public.


Calderstones Cemetery was sold by the NHS two decades ago. It then changed ownership over the years and its state, especially the removal of many headstones, caused concern among relatives and the local community.

The site’s overall condition, concerns for graves and memorial areas where ashes were scattered, and its uncertain future were raised at Ribble Valley Council meetings. It has also been the focus of a campaign by people in Lancashire and Greater Manchester to keep its religious status and restore it.

In a statement today, May 24, the Diocese of Blackburn explained the background to the bishop’s decision. The diocese said an application was first made in 2019 to de-consecrate a portion of the land after Ribble Valley Council granted planning permission for a crematorium to be built within the cemetery.

At the time, the then bishop, the Rt Rev Julian Henderson, ruled that further investigations should be carried out to check whether human remains lay within that part of the land.

The investigations have now been undertaken, with inspections of cemetery records and an independent survey using ground penetrating radar. It concluded that there are no remains in the portion of land in question.

The statement added: “On this basis, the present Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Rev Philip North, has agreed this specific area of the cemetery can therefore be de-consecrated. The rest of the land will remain consecrated, and the Bishop has set strict conditions for its future to ensure the remembrance of people buried within it.

“These include that new landscaping and other works of restoration are carried out in the burial ground. The bishop has also decreed that the consecrated burial ground should be open to visitors, a communal memorial should be erected, and information boards explaining the history of the cemetery be put in place.”